Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery archive prints.

Editorial: Going Solo

Susanna Pettersson, PhD, Museum Director, Ateneum Art Museum, Helsinki

 

September 22, 2016

 

This autumn the Finnish National Gallery celebrates internationally acknowledged artists such as Mona Hatoum and Amedeo Modigliani. Hatoum has a strong voice in the contemporary art scene. Her political works pinpoint the issues that we all should be aware of. Modigliani, in his turn, is known for his unique paintings and sculptures but also because of his dramatic life story: drugs and poverty combined with the deep passion to create.

Museums are platforms for exhibitions that touch our hearts and souls. However, this has not always been the case. In the 19th century, art museums throughout Europe mainly presented exhibitions of collections according to the schools, such as the Dutch and Flemish, or Renaissance art, rather than focusing on individual artists. Yet the key figures of art history were sculpted, carved, or their names inscribed on museum walls and facades all over Europe, from London to Paris and Helsinki. Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo were among the most frequently used names in this imaginary hall of fame. It’s somewhat striking that while the value and interest of exceptional artists’ careers were understood, retrospective exhibitions as we understand them today, became increasingly popular only after the mid-19th century.

The interest in exploring the careers of individual artists grew hand in hand with the development of art-historical research. Encyclopaedic art-historical presentations written by Franz Theodor Kugler, Karl Schnaase or Wilhelm Lübke, for example, provided a framework for the discourse in the 19th century. Within the same time frame the first artist monographs were published. They opened up possibilities for the better understanding of art history, and inspired museums to start focusing on exhibitions that explored one artist only. Specific sites and museums dedicated to single artists were opened: among the first were the Thorvaldsen Museum in Copenhagen (1848) Antonio Canova’s Gipsoteca in Possagno, Italy (1853) and the Ingres’ Room (1851/54), now part of the Musée Ingres in Montauban, France.

In Finland the first retrospective exhibition was organised to honour the memory of Werner Holmberg (1830–60) whose blossoming career as a landscape painter was cut short by his untimely death. The exhibition, mounted by the Finnish Art Society, was opened in September 1861 at the grand gallery of the Societetshuset in Helsinki, a venue where the upper class organised large-scale events. This time, there were no real possibilities for any research. That came later in 1890, when Finnish art historian Eliel Aspelin-Haapkylä published the first proper monograph about Werner Holmberg, in connection with the artist’s exhibition at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki.

The link between research and exhibitions is vital. It has always been, and today even more so. This is perhaps something that we should highlight even more: that the best exhibitions are always based on scholarly and ambitious research. Every phenomenon, every artist and even every work has a story to tell. And these stories can lead to life-changing thoughts and experiences.

Featured image: Artists and teachers with their spouses in Düsseldorf in the 1850s. On the left, Werner Holmberg (1830–1860), one of the first Finnish artists to have studied in Düsseldorf. Black-and-white print on paper from the 1890s, reproduction of original print. Finnish National Gallery Archive.

Koliba Villa (Willa Koliba), designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in 1892–93, is now the Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane Photo: Tatra Museum Archive

Article: Return to Nature

Gill Crabbe, FNG Research

 

A key feature of the European revivalist art of the late 19th century were the artists’ communities that grew up in areas of natural beauty across Europe. Gill Crabbe meets two of the organisers of the 2015 European Revivals conference, which took place in Krakow and Zakopane in the Tatra mountains

When one thinks of the European revivalist culture that emerged in the later decades of the 19th century, one thinks of Paris as having been the central hub of the artistic ideas that spread across Europe and that included – especially in northern Europe – an urge to return to local territories and art practices. There were also the philosophical ideas generated by British artist thinkers such as John Ruskin, and the birth of the Arts and Crafts movement, epitomised in the decorative arts of William Morris. However, fewer scholars internationally today have been aware of its manifestations in central Europe, and one significant result of the Finnish National Gallery’s European Revivals Research Project has been a conference that took place in Krakow and Zakopane in Poland, which has now placed the country’s Tatra mountain region firmly on the European revivalist map.

The FNG’s European Revivals Project, which has been active since 2009, aims to bring together scholars, art histories and narratives from different countries and explore their common cultural heritage concerning this key period in Europe’s cultural history. The four international conferences that have so far taken place have provided fertile ground for sharing ideas, networking and exploring common experiences.

The Tatra Museum conference in Krakow in 2015, which included a day visiting the Tatra mountain village of Zakopane, took as its theme the return to nature that can be seen as a feature of European revivalist cultures, reflected in the development of artists’ colonies in rural areas that promoted a simple healthy lifestyle. Their art not only foregrounded en plein air landscape painting but also manifested in fresh creativity in the decorative arts and architecture and indeed across all artistic disciplines. At the conference, curators and scholars from as far afield as Scotland, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and of course Poland, explored themes ranging from nature and myth, and colour and national artistic identity, to wilderness and violence, and the significance of the rustic hut.

Edyta Barucka, an independent scholar based in Warsaw, explains how the Krakow conference came about. ‘It goes back to the first of these conferences, held at the Ateneum Art Museum in 2009, which was about the myths and visions of history and included study visits to the Finnish artists’ houses – Gallen-Kallela’s house in Tarvaspää and houses in the Tuusula district near Helsinki,’ she says. ‘It was a marvellous experience just to touch these houses, to see them as they were, to learn their respective histories. And it added an important dimension to our research – sharing direct experiences and insights with colleagues. I remember the lineoleum in one of the rooms and wondering if it was from Scotland. It was the first time I thought it would be good to share what we have in Poland.’

At subsequent conferences, delegates became aware of new threads and areas of interest developing. ‘Then, following the Oslo conference in 2014, I revisited the idea of bringing scholars to Poland, in collaboration with the Tatra Museum,’ says Barucka.

Featured image: Koliba Villa (Willa Koliba), designed by Stanisław Witkiewicz in 1892–93, is now the Museum of the Zakopane Style, a branch of the Tatra Museum in Zakopane
Photo: Tatra Museum Archive

Read More — Download ‘Return to Nature’ by Gill Crabbe as a PDF

Download the Full Article as a PDF >>

Read more about the European Revivals Research Project — just follow the link below:

https://research.fng.fi/research-projects/

Download the programme from the European Revivals 2015 conference, Tatra Museum, Krakow and Zakopane

Download the Conference Programme as a PDF >>